In an effort to find a game to dethrone Slay the Spire as the king of roguelike deckbuilders, I have been playing all of those I can from my hands on, the latest of which is Gordian Quest.
Developed by Singapore-based Indie studio Mixed Realms, the game has of course been compared to Slay the Spire. The developers refer to it as an RPG inspired by old-school classics like Ultima and Wizardry with modern gameplay elements such as deck-building and turn-based strategic combat.
It currently features different game modes. These include a story “campaign”, a more straight forward “climb” mode reminiscent of other deckbuilders and a PvP mode.
Gordian Quest in now available in Early Access on Steam for your regional pricing.
STORY – Gods have been angered, again
The story set out in the campaign mode is pretty straightforward. Long ago, humans lived peacefully together with the Vanai, who angered the gods with their thirst for knowledge and got banished. As a result, humans inherited a cursed and fractured land, filled with monsters.
Your group of heroes set out to find a cure for the curse affecting the splintered regions of the world.
The story is divided into Acts, the latest of which, Act 3 was just released. In the new content the party travels to the Faded Peaks, on a trek through the former home of the Vanai. These are semi-independent chunks of story that can be played on their own, or can be played sequentially by carrying over your party’s progress.
The characters you can assemble your party with are drawn from the classic DnD archetypes. Each of them has 4 subclasses which determine their stats as well as their starting ability deck.
Personally, I didn’t care about the plot and I found myself skipping through dialogue and craving some more action. This is not a reflection on the game itself and more on my ability to focus. Either way, those looking for a deep meaningful narrative will not likely find it here. This said, with the final Act in the making, I am open to be proven wrong.
GAMEPLAY – A lot of ideas…
Combat at first seems like the most straightforward aspect of this game for fans of the roguelike deckbuilding genre. Your heroes draw a handful of cards each turn and can play as many as their Ability Points allow them. However, with three heroes drawing their cards at the same time, combat require additional planning to optimise each character’s turn.
The battlefield is also divided into two grid sections of various size. Heroes and enemies can move around their side of the battlefield by spending Ability Points. They can do so to avoid damage, or to deliver an attack having limited range, adding yet another layer of strategy into every decision. And it gets even more complicated, with abilities that let you summon allies, place traps, and special battle modifiers such as barricades that will block the range of certain attacks until destroyed.
Outside of combat, the map fills up with nodes that represent different activities, some compulsory and some optional, concentrated around a central hub. Here the party can rest, buy gear and provisions, switch members, and hand-in completed quests to the residents.
As it is custom of RPGs, the party gains experience that will eventually have them level up. You can spend the skill point gained to unlock boons on a skill tree that expands as the character levels. These bonuses can be an increase in stats, card upgrades and removal, or even a new skill card from one of the schools the character can specialise in.
Furthermore, each character has their own equipment, which grants additional bonuses to their stats, new skill cards or other benefits. Runes can also enhance each piece of equipment, for even extra power.
There are event nodes that resolve as standard DnD skill checks, by rolling a d20. Other nodes have an exploration mini-game, which gives a chance to gain gear and resources and possibly healing. Campfires where you can rest, get temporary boons, and upgrade your skills, shrines that make some combat nodes harder in exchange for additional loot, multi-floored dungeons acting as extra maps…
The bad rolls
The game is currently lacking a proper tutorial. The developers are planning to incorporate one with the full release, but as of now only help pages are provided. It takes a good few hours just to understand what is it you are doing and what each mechanic does. Secondly, I am personally not a fan of multiple difficulty settings in a roguelike. Balancing a card-based game is a big challenge, let alone balancing one with all the previously mentioned mechanics piled on top of it. Juggling the balance of 5 different difficulty settings will likely not result in the experience the developers intended for each and every player.
Additionally, as part of the difficulty settings you can choose whether the game is going to end once the party dies, possibly losing 3-4 hours of progress, or whether you simply respawn in the hub. I would argue that the campaign mode does not really work as a roguelike, as these can be tough and unforgiving and get away with perma-death because the game cycle is quick and each run takes around an hour.
The game is still good despite this, and in fact this issue complaint doesn’t apply to the Realm mode. In roguelike deckbuilding fashion, it presents the party with a straightforward branching path to a boss, with an ever-increasing difficulty curve. In this mode, as well as Skirmish mode, the PvP one, combat is king, and carries the whole game.
GRAPHIC & AUDIO – a decent pair
In my review of Roguebook, I mentioned how that was perhaps the best looking roguelike deckbuilder yet. Gordian Quest is just as beautiful. The art style is very cartoony and it is mostly kept simple, though there are still some gorgeous animations for some of the higher level spells and skills. This simplicity also means that the gameplay is not slowed down by overly detailed and cumbersome graphics. This results in combat that is fast and reactive and overall a pleasure to go through.
After playing games for twenty years it’s honestly hard to get excited over the music and audio of a title like this. The gameplay is clearly optimised for speed, and as such, when caught in a frantic battle, all I care about is to not be distracted by outlandish sound design. In this regard, Gordian Quest fully succeeds, with an unobtrusive and perfectly adequate soundtrack and sound effects.
Gordian Quest was reviewed on PC. A key was provided by Sandbox Strategies.